Children attending the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Southeast D.C. got to hang out awhile Tuesday with team players who also graced them with an autograph signing session.
“As they were going through the line, they were like: ‘You hit the grand slam. You should sign this!’ I’m like, ‘All right,'” third baseman Anthony Rendon said, giggling. “Just seeing the kids’ smiles always brings a good feeling and to know that you’re giving back to the kids in a positive way.”
Rendon has been a member of the academy’s board of directors since 2016.
“I love it too much,” 12-year-old Serenity Loyd said about attending the summer program. “I don’t have to stare at walls and I can do what I love.”
Which is what?
The academy sponsors free six-week summer programs for 162 children from D.C. wards 7 and 8.
“I love it here. I’ve been coming here since I was in third grade, and I never want to leave,” said Janyia Freeman, 13. After just having a turn at bat against pitcher Tony Sipp, Freeman added: “It makes me feel special that we get to get people to come here and I get to hit off them.”
Kids love the time spent playing ball, especially when the major leaguers visit, but the program also immerses them in other experiences, including vegetable gardening, learning about nutrition and learning how to cook some of the food they help grow.
“They come and have breakfast with us. They have on-field time. They spend time in the classrooms on science and mathematics activities,” said Jennifer Cartland, executive director for the academy.
There are field trips, too, she said.
“Last week, our seventh- and eighth-graders, for example, went to the African American history museum, while I believe our fifth- and sixth-graders were out on the Potomac.”
Left fielder Juan Soto, 20, had some advice for the major league hopefuls.
“Just work hard. Work hard, and keep studying in school and everything. Be disciplined in the field and out of the field,” Soto advised. “And have fun.”
Academy scholar athletes will close their six-week program soon with a yearbook signed by the Nationals’ manager, players and coaches.
Lining up on Tuesday to sign the children’s yearbooks, gloves and baseballs were manager Dave Martinez; assistant hitting coach Joe Dillon; hitting coach Kevin Long; bench coach Chip Hale; relief pitcher Matt Grace; third baseman Anthony Rendon; relief pitcher Tanner Rainey; starting pitcher Austin Voth; relief pitcher Javy Guerra; relief pitcher Tony Sipp; left fielder Juan Soto; first baseman Howie Kendrick; and pitching coach Paul Menhart.